Filling the Funnel: A Case for Less

We’re facing a cliff of sorts. By the year 2025, the number of college-age students is expected to plummet like lemmings into a cold, barren sea. Many schools are already preparing by conducting research, finding ideal market positions, and launching new brands and creative—all smart, strategic initiatives. Almost always, these efforts lead to increased awareness, interest, and applications.

Schools are also adopting macro applications of the brand through large media buys, mass email campaigns, and boosted social to increase reach and eyeballs. However, in a landscape where the eyeballs may be diminishing by upwards of 500,000 prospective students nationwide (a million if we’re counting actual eyeballs), many will look at the lists they’ve bought or their online reach and try to increase those numbers for one purpose: because the math works out. More at the top yields more at the bottom. Right?

Maybe. It’s a risky effort that can be hard to justify. Try telling your VP of Enrollment that you’re going to spend time and resources identifying and then persuading a thousand people who have never heard of your institution to visit campus. The first response might be, “Great!” But the next question is the one that matters: “How many visits do you think you can get?” You probably couldn’t get a green light once you do the math and realize the ends likely won’t justify the means. At the end of the day, you’ll learn a little about all these people—but is it enough to make an impression?

Instead, focus your time and resources on getting to know your most promising prospects the most. Tell your VP that you are going to spend an entire day finding out everything you can about the family already planning to visit campus for the first time in a few weeks so you can line up meetings with the most ideal people to act as a welcoming committee. In this way, you’re creating something better than bigger top-funnel numbers: the most unforgettable first impression.

The first response might be, “Wait, what? You’re going to spend your entire day on one family?” But take a second to think about the importance of this family’s decision. Regardless of their socio-economic status, it’s enormous. Very few decisions they’ll make come with this much financial pressure. More importantly, very few decisions are attached to this much pride, passion, joy, and hope. And that, right there, is why, when you decide to spend a full day getting to know this family, it will be worth it.

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